Monday, 15 October 2012

Digital Fashion Week: EXCLUSIVE Eugene Lin interview

When you take interesting and original prints and mix them with well thought of details and top it off with immaculate tailoring, you get a recipe for some serious fashion to look out for!

Eugene Lin does just that. Impeccably-cut clothes which look modern, chic with an edgy twist and would fit into any style-conscious woman’s wardrobe.

The Singaporean-born, London-based Central Saint Martins graduate has already started making waves in the fashion world and it’s no surprise when his work set very high standards for emerging designers. And perhaps what’s even more interesting is his honesty and outspoken attitude in a world where diplomatic and politically-correct statements are the general rule.

I am very excited to be meeting and interviewing Eugene after his first ever show in Singapore during Digital Fashion Week (DFW), especially after this explosive and honest Q&A with a man not afraid to speak his mind. 

In by far and away the most controversial interview of the DFW series, the London based Lin lets rip on exactly what is wrong with the Singapore fashion scene, celebrity designers and the problems with Singapore's attempts to support local labels.

Singapore designer Eugene Lin
Eugene Lin will show his latest SS12 collection 'The Judgement of Paris' at DFW!
Certainly not to miss!!!

Bonjour Singapore: Describe the essence of your label in one sentence.

Eugene Lin: Slim, sophisticated with a strong focus on creative cutting.

What’s the inspiration behind your recent collection which will show at DFW?

The SS13 collection is a contemporary interpretation of the Greek myth of ‘The Judgment of Paris.’ According to Greek mythology, Zeus once held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Achilles’ parents. However, to avoid disharmony, Eris, the goddess of discord, was not invited. Angered by this snub, Eris arrived at the celebration with a golden apple inscribed with “kallistē” ("for the fairest one") which she threw to the party. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite immediately laid claim to apple and beseeched Zeus to judge which of them was fairest. Reluctant to show favoritism, Zeus declared that the Trojan mortal, Paris, would judge their beauty.

Eugene Lin is showing at Singapore's Digital Fashion Week

Who has inspired your journey as a fashion designer? Is there any particular designer you look up to?

I only began exploring designers in the late 90’s. At the start, it was the late Gianni Versace, the late Lee McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Tristan Webber. I continue to be inspired by designers with a keen eye for the cut of clothes: Azzedine Alaïa, Hussein Chalayan, Vivienne Westwood, Lee Alexander McQueen, Roland Mouret, Phoebe Philo and Haider Ackermann.

Who do you design for?

I design for real women between 25 to 45 who appreciate true craftsmanship, details and quality. I make no apologies for favouring a slim silhouette. Slim women deserve beautiful clothes as much as women of any other shape.

You are born in Singapore but based in London. Was your decision to leave Singapore through necessity or choice?

It was a necessity based on the choice to be targeting the international market.

Eugene Lin at Digital Fashion Week Singapore

Eugene Lin

Singaporean designer Eugene Lin

Could you have achieved the same success you have now if you’ve stayed in Singapore? What do you think needs to change in order for that to happen?

No, definitely not. God! I can write a thesis on this, but I will try to be brief. This is not going to be pretty but the faster Singapore addresses the flaws in its system, the faster it can get better.

Singapore still waits for its designers to gain international recognition before it happily calls them their own and supports them. Look at Andrew Gn, Ashley Isham and All Dressed Up and then look at Tan Yoong, Lye Chan, and ad tell me this is not true. This is because Singapore as a cultural society is still so afraid to embrace its own talent and views its designers as second class, regardless of their talent level.

The rise of the high-street in Singapore has, in my view, really stifled creative growth as the spending power of Singaporeans with regards to fashion is already comparatively low on the designer market, even at the Contemporary Designer level. With local designers already battling rising rent and production costs, they now have to fight the imported high-street as well a generally unappreciative public to save their razor thin profit margins. With the insipid propagation of more malls filled with the same old shit, you get more and more of bland generic clothing. Does Singapore really need or even want THREE Zara stores on Orchard Road alone? Why do we need five, yes, FIVE Louis Vuitton stores?!? The country builds lots of malls Singaporeans do not need, fills it with things it does not want, and then wonders why its designers are not getting anywhere.

The Singaporean public also has to snap out of its pathetic idolisation of imported culture- whether it is insipid American surf culture, retarded cutsey Japanese dress up etc. Wake up and start appreciating its own talent. Singaporean designers may not always get it right but the public can help them grow by buying into promising Singaporean brands. What Singaporeans are saying by choosing not to is that they do not value uniqueness, that they love conformity (which they do, but that is a thesis for another day) because ultimately they themselves are not unique. For all the many competitions and funding programmes Singaporeans have, the litmus test always lies in the wallet of the consumers because consumers do not lie with their money. If Singaporeans are really passionate about supporting local designers, do not offer them dead-end retail “opportunities” like Parco Millennia Walk: just buy their clothes and wear them.

For the industry, it has to learn to take more risks and find its own voice. Ethnicity is not enough to make you unique. I get so tired of seeing the same predictable fabrications: always cotton or cotton jersey and once in a while someone will use a bit of wool and then it gets hyped up to be the second coming of Christ. Singaporean designers have to break out of their need for pragmatisms, something that held back my earlier work too, and go for a silhouette that is truly unique even if unconventional. This is not a battle call for Lady Gaga copies or having showpieces for the sake of showpieces, it is a call to push their own individual aesthetic in terms of cut, fabric, silhouette, and range to a truly unique place. Try things you have not tried before, there is no real point in doing the same collection over and over. You have to stop trying to please everyone and find your own unique voice first – that is the hardest challenge.

Be proud of who you are. If someone had said a name like Hussein Chalayan or Jimmy Choo would be a big success twenty years ago, I think everyone would have laughed. And before anyone points at me and says ‘that is easy you moved to the West’, look around and tell me how many Asian designers are there using their real names for their labels. You do not have to name your label ‘XYZ by Jessie Siu’ just to gain acceptance or because you are afraid it will not sell. If you are not proud of who you are, how can you expect anyone else to be?

If Singapore is serious about being on the International Designer playing field, it has to play by its rules. Harrods is not going to suddenly find £50,000 of extra buying budget sitting around, fly halfway across the world and place orders on Singaporean design. Granted, BluePrint which I participated in 2010 is a good start, but in all fairness it shows after all the budget has been spent by stores who understand the buying calendar, and when they arrive in Singapore, it is just an all-expenses paid holiday for them- not a serious trade show for the International Designer market. I personally find that the top-level decisions in Arts funding bodies are made by people who are massively qualified to run paper proposals but totally out of touch with the needs and demands of designers in the field. They have to stop trying to see the industry in terms of just excel spreadsheets and start addressing the real issues at hand.

Singaporean designer Eugene Lin

Singaporean designer Eugene Lin

Would you ever consider moving back to Singapore and opening your showroom/boutique in the city?

Relocating to Singapore is not an option at present, nor is a showroom there a feasible requirement but I would like to open a boutique in Singapore one day if the market conditions are right.

You’ve had some work experiences at Vivienne Westwood, Preen, Roksanda Ilincic and Ashley Isham. Did any of them influence your work in any way and who was your favourite to work with?

It was a privilege to work with the aforementioned designers and labels which I continue to hold in high esteem. Each house was a different learning experience and to attempt to choose a favourite is equivalent to asking one to choose their favourite birthday memory. Each birthday is different and unique but necessary in getting to the next. I learnt a lot about the industry’s many facets and am grateful for that, but do not believe that their work has directly influenced the aesthetic of my work.

How important is it for a designer these days to still be hands on at his/her craft and have the technical education when it comes to pattern-making, cutting and sewing – especially with a rising number of ‘designers’ who are making it in the industry with no formal training?

In a nutshell: How can a painter be a painter if he relies on the brush strokes of another? I find it galling how the word ‘designer’ has been so degraded over the course of the last decade with the rise of the ‘celebrity/untrained’ designer. If you would not by an album which was sung by a baker, why would you buy a garment which was designed by a singer? ‘You pay for what you get’ applies to both consumer and designer – You have to pay your dues.

I also take into contention the term ‘making it’. Sure, if putting out shitty excuse for clothes in swanky prime location boutiques which are worn one day and forgotten the next is some kind of desirable level of success, then there is no shortage of lamentable labels to choose from which are ‘making it’. Fashion is so powerfully connected to sociology, and true talent and art not only captures the time it exists in but also continues to inspire way past the window of fickle fashion.
Look at Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Dior, Worth and Balenciaga. Their craftsmanship for cut and years of dedication to their craft is still marveled at today. I highly doubt we will see a Kanye West piece in the Victoria & Albert Museum or Metropolitan Museum of Art in the future, at least not in the fashion department.

Your talent aside, I can’t help but notice that you’ve been featured and supported by the Singapore media (especially fashion magazines) more than a lot of other talented Singapore-based designers of your generation. Do you think this has anything to do with you being based and successful overseas?

I am immensely grateful to the Singapore media for featuring and supporting my work but that does not mean that Singapore-based designers are not deserving of greater media coverage. It is not a win-lose paradigm, and indeed more Singapore-based designers with good work should be featured so it can be a win-win situation. While I have stated that Singapore still tends to wait for designers to make it overseas before acknowledging them, I also believe that the amount of media coverage is directly proportional to the quality of work and the sacrifice made to achieve it. Success did not instantly happen just because of a change in my geography. One gives up a lot, both financially and personally when they move overseas, and not everyone who moves overseas is successful.

Your designs especially prints are very London-esque. Is that an influence from studying at Central Saint Martins where some of the quirkiest and most iconic print designers came from (like Alexander McQueen, Mary Katrantzou, Matthew Williamson, etc…)?

My first three collections were actually print-free, but it was only in the fourth where I introduced it did the label really start to gain momentum. London has a strong tradition of fabric printing thanks to the aforementioned designers and is currently riding the digital print wave. While the prints currently form a large part of the collection and the label as it is, the main focus is still the cut of the clothes, as I firmly believe a good piece should work in a plain fabric just as well as a print.

Eugene Lin at Digital Fashion Week

Yellow dress by Eugene Lin

What was your biggest fashion faux-pas?

For a faux-pas to exist there has to be a collective belief in accepted norms, of which Singapore has no lack of. I, however, have a healthy disregard for conformity and to the best of my memory have therefore never committed one.

After reading this how can you miss the LIVE Google+ Hangout I’m having with Eugene Lin right after his show on October 21 at 7:30pm (Singapore time)?

You can also watch Eugene Lin's show Live-streamed and Google+ Hangout interview plus all the backstage action on Digital Fashion Week website here.